Yoann Gourcuff: Never on schedule, always on time.
Yoann Gourcuff: Never on schedule, always on time. 


Five years ago, 23 year old French playmaker Yoann Gourcuff was heralded as the next Zinedine Zidane. But an array of injuries, subpar play and clashes with teammates slowed down his career. His recent form for Olympique Lyon however, has reminded folk of his once sterling promise.

This past weekend, Lyon stopped Marseille’s unbeaten run at 8 games with a second half goal from Gourcuff. Although Marseille remains in the top spot of Ligue One, the title race is getting narrower and narrower by the week.

Yoann announced his arrival to the footballing world in January of 2009. While playing for Bordeaux against capital club PSG, Yoann took the ball outside the penalty box and quickly turned inside. What followed was a dizzying, mesmerizing pirouette that saw Gourcuff bypass two defenders in two moves before burying a beautiful shot in the back of the net.

The goal captivated the French league and had former international stars like Christophe Dugarry saying “that goal was no accident. “It showed there was something magical about him. I felt ill when Zidane retired. Watching Gourcuff has cured me. When I see players like him, I feel like a small boy again.”

Yes, that goal was that beautiful. And what’s most impressive is that he did it while evading the defenders as they collapsed around him. His reaction time couldn’t have been more than a few milliseconds. Any more time thinking and he would have been turned back.

Midfielders like Yoann have an uncanny ability to work incredibly well within small spaces. When the room around them collapses and they have to get rid of the ball or risk losing possession, they seemingly always make the right decision, be it a perfect pass or a perfect move.

And maybe, it’s the lack of options that allows these players to make quick, poignant (and often correct) decisions. As the iconic Johan Cruyff said:

“In small space a player has to be capable of acting quickly. A good player who needs too much time can suddenly become a poor player.”

If a player has too much time on the ball, he will invariably analyze many passing options and by virtue of that, increase the likelihood of a mistake. (Of course, too much time by itself doesn’t necessarily mean a bad decision will come). Scarcity of options is what produces beautiful, run of play passing and separates great players from the rest.

In his wonderful TED Talk from a few years ago, Professor Barry Schwartz talks about how an abundance of options in the developed world has made us our world miserable and unhappy.

He says “The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose.” Sort of how having too many passing options can lead you astray, no?

I see this often in my own age group. Peers who write me asking for advice (I don’t really think I’m qualified enough to give anyone advice) mention that they have a few different avenues open and that they’d “like to consider all their options.”

This is so frustrating. Saying you’ll keep your options open is making no choice. You’re deciding not to decide. Part of that stems from our upbringing. When we were young, our generation (Gen Y), was told that we could be anything we wanted. Whatever we set our mind to do, we could do.

But the real world doesn’t work that way. You can’t hop around from item to item expecting to be the best and expecting to find fulfillment if A) you don’t put serious time into it and B) if you keep all your options open. It’s an easy excuse and exit. It’s like saying “oh if this acting thing doesn’t work, I’ll just go into NASA.”

Most of the anxiety and frustration I see in my peers is caused by an inability to decide. “Do I go to grad school, ask for a raise or travel around eastern Europe?”

(PS saying your goal is to travel is stupid. Traveling for the sake of traveling is the worst thing plaguing Gen Y. What are you gaining by hopping around city to city and sight to sight? to quote Ryan Holiday, “The cities you’re traveling to see were built by people who sat down and worked instead of flittering around the way that only rich white kids seem to want to do.”)

I know this because I went through this option paralysis a while back. One of the most trying and exhausting period of the 2 years between college graduation and Waze was in 2011 when I was unable to decide between my next step. I was working at a bank and I was looking for a way out.

After moving home, my parents had convinced me to take this job while I  continue searching for what I really wanted, an opportunity working for a startup in SF. But when you do two things part time, you do neither. As the great Ron Swanson said “never half-ass two things. Whole ass one thing.”

The weeks and months rolled on and I was becoming extremely frustrated with my current job and my dream job search. I was “so anxious getting anxiety. Begging one these fucking (startups) to hire me.”

These feelings and conflict had me thinking that if I could just get out of Modesto that I would be happier. But in reality, the restlessness lay within me. Modesto is a far cry from a big city or a young city, but my dissatisfaction wasn’t due to the 209, it was due to my own perspective.

As Seneca said “If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.”

Of course, I was too immature to understand that, so instead of looking for internal change, I was fixated on external change.

In early 2011, I applied for grad school. It was a rushed process, one that had me take the GMAT with 2 weeks prep time and saw me back and forth between Modesto and SF, turning in applications and attending orientations.

Eventually, I was accepted into the MBA International Business Program at SFSU. I was set to begin my 12 month master’s with a semester in Nice, France. I was happy. At first. But in time, I began second guessing my decision to go to France and thought that maybe, I should just stay at the bank. Friends and family heard my stance change often. One week I was going, one week I was staying.

The more time I spent alone and the more time I thought about where I was and where I wanted to be, the more I realized that I could not possibly go through with grad school.

Going to grad school was a way for me to prolong my collegiate years. By going back to school, I was delaying having to make the tough, real life decisions of what I wanted to do. I falsely believed that all my troubles would go away if I just went to France. But they wouldn’t. I had to look inwardly to ask myself the hard questions, identify my goals and begin working on a solid, consistent plan to achieve said goals.

So in early August 2011, I called the registrar’s office and withdrew from SFSU. It was the last day before scholarships and grants were to be dispersed. So if I wanted to drop out, I had to do it then.

It was one of the toughest choices I had ever made. But I knew that if I wanted to get on the right track, that I had to start there. And it began by making a choice on how to move forward and to eliminate every other option that wouldn’t get me there.

Just to spice things up, in anticipating  grad school, I put in my two week’s notice at the bank. One I dropped out, I conveniently forgot to tell them. So on August 10th, 2011 I was out of grad school and out of a job.

I had made a choice. And if I was going to be wrong, I was going to be wrong decisively. It could very well have been that dropping out of grad school was the wrong choice. And if it was, I would have adapted. But the important thing was that I chose. I stopped sitting at the crutch of various options and killed all other alternatives by dropping school and dropping my job.

The next 4-5 months were even tougher. Although I was picking up random marketing and biz dev freelance jobs, the money was not steady. But I was happier. I kept reading. I kept learning. And I stayed focus on the road that lay in front of me. And without the distraction of other choices, I could see where I was headed.

In essence, the space around me had collapsed. But now I was free to make the right decision and move up the pitch, so to speak. And akin to Yoann, five years after I entered the real world with so much promise, I’m finally starting to find my form.

And it all begins by being able to work well within small spaces. Or in our case, with less options.